Understanding the American Psychological Association Code of Ethics

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  • 0:00 What Are Codes of Ethics?
  • 0:53 What Is the APA?
  • 1:28 The Code of Ethics and…
  • 3:17 The APA's Professional…
  • 5:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

Ethical considerations are important to any group of professionals. Psychologists are therapists, educators, and researchers, and thus, their codes of ethics address all these areas of expertise.

What Are Codes of Ethics?

Have you ever been to a psychologist? Did you know they have a strict set of rules they adhere to in how they treat and behave with you? If you don't work in a professional field that possesses a strict code of ethics, it's likely that you only know them second-hand.

Codes of ethics are sets of rules of conduct regarding proper behavior, usually in a professional context. The major sets of ethical guidelines concern professionals such as lawyers, doctors, and members of the clergy. While ethical concerns may appear to be an optional part of a person's career, this is not the case. Violations of codes of ethics are often forwarded to licensing boards, who may revoke professional licenses or otherwise punish violators. In this lesson, we will discuss the American Psychological Association's Code of Ethics.

What Is the APA?

The American Psychological Association (APA) is one of the oldest organizations of mental health professionals in the world. Founded in 1892, the APA was a response to the emergence of new academic fields and the movement toward a more efficient and moral social culture.

The APA provided guidelines governing the various sciences of psychology, a relatively new field at the time. The APA set standards and helped determine the type of credentials that are necessary to practice psychology. They also would determine the ethical standards that should be practiced by anyone working in the field.

The Code of Ethics and Its Principles

The APA Code of Ethics was formulated in 1953, though many of the principles held within may date earlier. The code consists of a preamble and five general principles that set the spirit of the rest of the document. The preamble helps to determine who is bound by the code, and to what degree.

Generally, these rules only apply to certified psychologists that are also members of the APA. However, others in the mental health field and even members of other organizations are generally held to similar standards, and again, state licensing often depends on holding to a particular code of ethics. The APA's set of standards is intended for psychologists in their roles as caregivers, educators, and researchers.

The five general principles are:

  1. Beneficence and Nonmaleficence: Kind of like the medical profession's tenet of 'Do no harm,' in psychology, this principle means help others while minimizing involvements or relationships that may negatively impact the ability to help others.
  2. Fidelity and Responsibility: Take responsibility for your actions and maintain an open professional relationship with others.
  3. Integrity: Be honest to the best of your ability. If there is ever a reason for dishonesty, either as part of therapy or research, the potential benefits must be weighed against the potential costs.
  4. Justice: Give everyone equal access to an excellent standard of care. Psychologists are also urged to examine prejudices and biases that may impact their interaction with patients.
  5. Respect for People's Rights and Dignity: A set of guiding principles about understanding and eliminating one's prejudices as a professional, which includes prejudices about culture, ethnic background, or ability status.

The APA's Professional Standards

The APA's professional standards are more involved than the principles. While the principles may be considered the spirit of the rules of the APA, the standards are the enforceable rules of the organization. Each section includes subsections that spell out different situations for applications of the standard.

There are 10 standards:

  1. Resolving Ethical Issues
  2. Competence
  3. Human Relations
  4. Privacy and Confidentiality
  5. Advertising and Other Public Statements
  6. Record Keeping and Fees
  7. Education and Training
  8. Research and Publication
  9. Assessment
  10. Therapy

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